An Interview with Stephanie Lumsden (Hupa) on her 2015 NWSA Panel and her Teaching
Tell us about NWSA and your panel:
The conference theme for this year’s National Women’s Studies Association meeting was precarity. In the description of the theme, scholars interested in participating were directed to think of whose lives are differentially exposed to structural and interpersonal violence as a result of failing social and economic networks. We were asked to consider the implications of precarity and the material consequences of precariously lived lives. In an answer to this call for presentations, I organized a panel titled “Am I Next: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” with three other Indigenous feminist scholars. I, along with Angel Hinzo, Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, and Vanessa Esquivido-Meza, spoke to the precarity of Native women’s lives in settler states and discussed violence against Native women as being essential to the nation state. Each of us discussed different aspects of violence against Native women.
I discussed the contemporary crisis in Native communities in which the murder and disappearance of Native women is commonplace. Angel Hinzo, a PhD candidate in Native American Studies from UC Davis, discussed the memorialization of murdered and disappeared Native women in the Walking with our Sisters art installation. Vanessa Esquivido-Meza, a PhD candidate in Native American Studies at UC Davis, discussed the intricacies of federal recognition and how the legal ‘death’ of Native women makes them more vulnerable to actual murder and disappearance. Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University, provided a historical context of kidnapped, enslaved, murdered, and raped Native women and girls during the Gold Rush period in Northern California. Although the topic is heavy and deeply felt by each of us, we were very proud to present this topic at NWSA 2015.
What is the passion that drives you to teach what you teach?
All of the courses that I teach incorporate a discussion of prison abolition politics and reproductive justice because of my personal interests and scholarship. I have a passion for these topics for a number of reasons, not the least of which being my identity as a Native woman. It seems to me that much of the violence that has been used against Native people has always targeted our abilities to create self-determining futures, whether by actually eliminating our capacities for reproduction as Native women or by limiting our access to our land and cultures as a people. Since I understand colonization as a process rather than an event, I look to the ways that this violence has continued into the contemporary moment and I focus on the prison-industrial complex. The prison-industrial complex is a pernicious tool of settler colonialism in our communities. I come to this conclusion as result of the important academic and activist work of many, and also with the knowledge that very few Native people haven’t had someone in their family in prison. I know that this experience is true of many people of color, and it is with that experience in mind that I teach these topics to my students. I try to provide some explanations for these experiences to them, because it’s not a coincidence and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Who are some of your earliest influences in your field of study and why?
My early influences as a scholar were of course my teachers. I was an English major at Portland State University for a while until my friend suggested that I take Introduction to Women’s Studies and bell hooks. These were my first feminist classrooms with feminist readings and feminist community. My teacher for Intro to Women’s Studies was Julie Koehler, and she did an amazing job of showing me the door to an entirely new way of thinking about problems that I had only begun to recognize. I credit her with being my first feminist teacher. In bell hooks, I met one of the most important teachers of my life, the wonderful Roslyn Farrington. Roslyn was an incredible teacher because of her dedication to bringing the best out in her students and her patience with all of us while we struggled. I followed Roslyn around for most of my career in Women’s Studies, and she was an invaluable part of my feminist development, I miss her dearly. While at PSU I also took classes with Dr. Priya Kandaswamy, who showed me what it meant to think critically about feminist theory and how to make original arguments by putting scholars in conversation with one another. She also introduced me to prison abolition politics in a very challenging course, and her passion about this issue was contagious. Priya has remained an important teacher in my life and continues to help me develop my feminist thought. I wouldn’t be the scholar I am without these important early influences.
If you want your students to take away anything from the lessons you teach, what is the most important take away/lesson?
There are many lessons I try to teach my students, but I think that the single most important lesson is that they learn how to ask what is being accomplished by a particular institution/policy/law etc. In all of my classes I try to emphasize that everything does something, so what is it doing? Why is it doing that? Who benefits and who is harmed? I think learning how to see what is being done, often under the guise of progressive thought, is the most important lesson I teach.